Thursday, July 26, 2012

Blots in the Stone

July 25

I awoke early, bent on taking advantage of the cool air while it lasted.  With only thirty ounces of water left and five more miles to the trailhead I vanished from place of rest post haste.  I made the summit of Liberty Cap by seven and headed across the pinion and juniper forest toward Rim Rock Road. 
There were only a few small swigs left when I found Rim Rock, which circles Colorado National Monument.  The road was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, proving once again that government spending produces nothing of value.  What a job Rim Rock must have been, working high up on the canyon cliffs.  Any misstep would have been fatal, but the real danger proved to be the combination of falling rock and dynamite.  Eleven workers died during construction, nine in one single incident when chunks of stone fell onto the men following a detonation.
Thanks to their efforts we tourists can slowly drive (or amble in my case) above a classical series of art by the great master, erosion.  The many formations spread about the Monument are varied and intriguing.  I had strong views on what my favorite resembled but yours may differ depending on the angle of observation and whether you suffer from schizophrenia or some mental illness, which might cause you to see a simple blot as a reenactment of the John Lennon assasination. 
The most famous is Independence Rock, which received the name thanks to John Otto's scaling of the monolith on July 4, 1911.  Independence Rock was once part of a canyon wall that has disintregated over time.  For reasons only a geologist would pretend to understand, this one section remains, standing alone in the middle of Monument Canyon.  Groups still head to the top every year on our nation's birthday, planting an American flag up top and singing "Freedom Isn't Free".
There were other named rocks such as Pipe Organ, the Mummy, and Kissing Couple (at five hundred thousand years, the longest Big Red moment ever), but Balanced Rock and the Coke Ovens were my favorite Rorschach tests. 
You might want to rush to see Balanced Rock, because this particular piece of sandstone was perched in a manner so tenuous a strong coughing fit could bring it down. When I walked in front it I saw a giant thumb with a lidded trash can teetering on the nail.  I will also accept a seal holding a ball on its nose as a possible answer. 
My response to Coke Ovens was immediate and undeniable.  There is only one correct response: Jabba the Hut's family portrait.  I know you'll say they probably look like coke ovens, but I was lucky enough not to be doing factory work at the age of eight so I plead ignorance on that machine's physique.  There will always be disagreement of course, as interpretation is by definition a subjective art.  President Taft was the man to proclaim the National Monument and I don't doubt he thought the rocks an homage to his own rotundity. He at least had an excuse in his error: "Star Wars" had not yet been released.
Eventually I made it through the twistings of Rim Rock, thanks to the assistance of a couple from Chicago, Joel and Robby, who gave me water, Gatorade, and an orange.   They were on their own spectacular excursion, a month long automobile trek which seemed to include almost every National Park and Monument in the west.
I made my way into Fruita around two, bound to meet pops at Pablo's Pizza.  He had not yet arrived so I sat down for a delicious meat festival known as Noah's Ark.  The liver and onions of Tuesday left my carnivore status bowed but not broken.  Thankfully, the Ark renewed my faith in the juicy sensations pigs and cows can bestow upon our taste buds.
The absence of my father kept my joy muted.  I expected him to have arrived by now.  The British cel number he had given me was not working of course.  Worried, I contacted my brother who tried the hotel he had booked us for the evening.  No answer.  I waited at Pablo's for three hours before he finally rang me up, wondering why I was not at Pablo's.  Naturally he had gone to the Grand Junction location instead of the Fruita one.  At times my dad is a walking example of Murphy's Law.  I think he was genetically designed to be a Cubs fan. 
We did eventually reunite and spent a quiet night enjoying each other's presence and planning our itinerary for the next few days.  He was exhausted by a long day of traveling, a four hour flight followed by a five hour drive.  I was pooped from the usual walkabout.  We called it an early night around nine. 
17 miles/2958 total miles



Wednesday, July 25, 2012

VA and Go Away Day

July 23 and 24

I spent my last two days in Grand Junction volunteering at the VA Hospital there.   Patients and employees alike rave about the facility, which is smaller and easier to navigate than those in Denver and Salt Lake City. There is a sense of community and much of that is thanks to volunteers like Peggy and Betty who have become institutions, assisting those who wonder where to find their doctor, how to get to the radiology department, or what they did with their missing prosthesis for well over a decade.
I was lucky enough to follow them and learn enough over three days to have an idea where to send people when I was at the front desk on my own. I also rediscovered my hate of liver and onions thanks to Peggy.  Even this meatatarian now has boundaries.
Newer volunteers Janet and Sandra taught me as well and I hope to have an opportunity to work with them in the future. Everyone made me feel comfortable and a part of the team from the moment I entered the VA.
Sadly on the second day I had to move on, too much time in one town makes Alastair a dull boy and no one wants that.  Barbara had been a gracious host and her care as a nurse for those poisoned by uranium in the nearby mines is inspiring, but my welcome was well worn and I needed to head up to the Colorado National Monument. 
I walked seven miles after leaving the VA, some of along the muddy Colorado, before reaching the Liberty Cap Trail, which leads into the Monument on the ADT.  The path leads to the Monument Mesa, which is topped by the Liberty Cap, a sandstone formation of different hue than the rock below.  Climbing to the apex would be a task for tomorrow as the sun fell low and I tired of the trudge.  When encountered a nice soft flat place devoid of debris a few feet from the trail I took advantage. 

7 miles/2941 total miles

Thanks to recent contributors:
Janet Dean
Courtney Griffin
Kenneth and Lois Irwin
Nan Morrison
Michael and Duffy Petty

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Things to Do in Grand Junction When You're Delayed

July 19-22

Thanks to arriving in Grand Junction much too early I have an extra hour or four hundred to spend in the environs of the town (see July 18's episode for the full explanation, I hate being redundant all over again).  My host Barbara has been kind enough to help me pass the time in a manner non-analogous to the passing of a kidney stone.  Followed by the two beats associated with "Law and Order" here is our story:

1. Visit the Farmer's Market: My legendary love of vegetables clearly proceeded me.  Barbara suggested we head downtown (about two blocks) and check out the selection.  I have to admit the scene was more like a street fair, with stands selling items such as burritos, hot sauce, and massages, all of which are not normally grown to maturity in a garden.  There is also a variety of statues and artwork displayed throughout the main thoroughfare, most notably a memorial to Grand Junction's most famous writer, Dalton Trumbo.  The controversial author  of "Johnny Got His Gun" was black-listed for supposed Communist sympathies and has remained a debated figure even when portrayed by a hunk of metal.  The statue shows the man at work, writing in his bathtub, an image considered risque by some.

2. Volunteer at the VA Hospital: I spent Friday meeting the staff at the Grand Junction Veteran's Administration Hospital.   Ninety year old Betty led me about the facility.  A saucy lass from Texas rocking a lacy gown and an elegant broach, she managed to introduce me to seemingly hundreds of employees and patients.  With my sponge-like memory I soak things in and then wring them directly out.  I expect to be thoroughly embarrassed when I return on Monday and know three names.
I will remember one soldier for certain, a man named Paul who served during the Korean War era at Okinawa.  A welder, miner, and long distance truck driver, the multi-talented gent was also a demolitions expert.  As a private he was given dynamite and ordered to simulate the noisy conditions associated with anti-aircraft fire.  When the moment of detonation came a general's jeep was way too close, resulting in a mud bath for the high ranking officer.  Paul was asked by his corporal why he still hit the plunger with such an important man nearby.  "What the hell, they can't bust me down to a lower rank," was his response.

3.  Visit a Monument:  The Colorado National Monument to be precise.  The park was the dream of visionary John Otto, thought by many to be a crack addict long before the invention of the drug.  Some men are just ahead of their time and so too with Otto who did manage to get the canyons and arroyos acknowledged as an important natural resource not to be defiled by man.  In those days there were some exceptions to this defilement rule.  A road was built using copious amounts of dynamite to mold the rock into a more useful shape.  Even with explosive alteration a dizzying combination of ess turns and switchbacks  resulted, easing a travelers journey to Glade Park only somewhat.  Tourists these days travel on Rimrock Road and the old route has become the Serpent Trail, a chance for hikers to enjoy the beauty of No Thoroughfare Canyon at a more leisurely pace.  Barbara and I partook of the offer early Saturday and there was much rejoicing.

4. Kayak on a Raging River: Barbara suggested we should spend the afternoon with her friend Kevin rolling along the Colorado.  I'd heard tell this river is somewhat fast and rapid-laden and I've never run a kayak in my entire life, but I was buoyed by the moral support of many of my homeboys who have often encouraged me to "Go big or go home" whatever the hell that means.  Fortunately the water level was low thanks to the poor snows and my tubing skills translated to other inflatable flotation devices, which apparently can be operated even without the assistance of a twelve pack of Bud Light.  We rolled the lazy, muddy water with ease, the only trauma coming after when I realized I had failed to put sunscreen on a couple of body parts which are not regularly exposed to solar radiation.  Touch me and I'm gonna scream is no longer just a My Morning Jacket song.

5.  Meet My Idols: After conquering the mighty Colorado Barbara, Kevin, and I visited Palisade Brewery to sample some of their wares (I highly recommend their Dirty Hippie).  On the drive over I heard from Karen and Jerry, two other ADT hikers whose journal I read religiously while preparing for this trip.  They were in town and would like to meet up with us.  I recognized them immediately as they emerged from their vehicle.  Karen's long white locks flow like cottonwood fluff in the breeze and Jerry's beard busts my poor scraggly chin bush down to the bottom in the ranks of the great mountain men.   Their kindness matched their intimidating good looks.  They have an extra stroller which their daughter will be mailing out for my use in the desert, they bought Barbara and I dinner (Kevin left early), and they suggested a great desert-neutralizing device, the Chrome Dome, which I will hopefully exhibit for you in the near future.  For now let's say the moment I go Full Hobo is nigh.
I could have talked to Karen and Jerry for hours and hours on end.  In fact, I still am even though they are no longer around to listen to me.  I'm in training you see, trying to get ready for hallucinations induced by the loneliness of the desert in advance.  You never can be too prepared.

O miles/something total miles

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Reaching Intermission

July 18

Today should have been quite easy.  I was headed to the house of my host in Grand Junction, Barbara.  I had already been to Barbara's and had gained at least a modicum of understanding of the town's geography thanks to my wanderings with Lynne last night.  I guess I prefer doing things the hard way.
A little after nine Lynne dropped me off in Whitewater and I headed out, loose and free, the heavy pack awaiting me at the finish line.  I took only my water bottles and a couple of snacks.  For some reason I decided having any useful maps would just be an encumbrance.  Why?  I can only plead temporary insanity and not very convincingly.
Two miles down Coffman Road I ran into the first problem.  I was supposed to follow this street twice as long, but the city dump seemed to signal the end.  My only recourse was to head towards Highway 50, which I knew went to the promised land.  I was hoping to have better luck than Moses.
I followed the Highway a little, then veered onto a safer series of frontage roads.  I then did an impromptu interview with Channel 8, whose intrepid reporter P.J. managed to somehow find me.  If only I could do the same.  I talked into the camera a bit because we are trying to raise funds and increase awareness of the Wounded Warrior Project here (had you forgotten?), but frankly I prefer dealing with bears a lot more.
Eventually I ran into the ADT once more at the Colorado Riverfront Trail.  Grand Junction gets its name from the two rivers which met there, the Gunnison and the Colorado, which was formerly known as the Grand River.  In fact, in 1869 when an old wounded warrior, the one-armed Major Powell, led his famous expedition to explore the Grand Canyon, the Colorado did not officially begin until the Grand and Green Rivers merged.
Call it the Grand or the Colorado, I could not continue to follow the river or the trail for long.  My destination was to the east, in downtown Grand Junction.  I headed across Highway 50 and managed to find Ouray St., upon which Barbara's home is located.  After a few blocks this street also ran to its conclusion.  Instead of paralleling on a north or south street and heading east until Ouray resumed I made a decision that could only have been influenced by the sun's melting of my brain.  I want west.  
After about a mile of this idiocy I somewhat came to my senses and went into a gas station to look at a map.  The part of my mind which was still working insisted I was northwest of Barbara's.  Those few remaining cells turned out to be correct.  If only they had controlled my feet an hour earlier.  Reoriented I found a sensible route to my home for the next week, arriving in time to collapse onto the living room floor.
Now to do my best to explain the following two weeks: My mother and brother wanted to meet me in this area from the get-go to see Arches and some of the other natural wonders out here.  They will also walk with me and provide support through the first section of desert.  Since they had to plan a flight early I was forced to guess when I would arrive in Grand Junction.  Let's just say I did poorly.  They do not get to Fruita, which is less than twenty miles away, until August 3.  So I have time on my hands.  Dad is coming to help out on July 25th and we will do some exploring of our own.  Until then I plan on volunteering at the VA Hospital and perhaps the Catholic Outreach Center, which is a very important resource for the poor within the Grand Junction community.  I'll do an occasional update, but will not be posting daily again until the third when I head off to meet Mom and Colin in Fruita.  Until then please spend your time wisely - may I suggest donating to the Wounded Warrior Project?

11 miles/2934 total miles

Falling off the Table

July 17

A night of fitful sleep made me glad for the coming of the dawn.  I was ready to put a little space between myself and bear territory.  The Kannah Creek Trail follows a gap between two mesas thousands of feet downward.  I had been told this slope was the western edge of the Rockies.  A milestone was near and I rushed ahead.
Bear tracks were evident most of the time, leading me to believe my friend from yesterday was a regular hiker him/herself.  I was in no rush to be reacquainted.  Hiking alone is okay sometimes.
By eleven I finally reached the end of the interminable trail and returned to country roads.  The weather was dry and hot at this lower elevation, the work harder, but I was glad to trade the claustrophobia of the narrow path for a wide road, even if the sweat toll was greater.
I had initially planned to find a spot to camp on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, which is a common sight as you move into the empty western desert.  Unluckily when I found a promising area I was too low on water to consider stopping.  I finally found a house where the resident shared some of the refreshing liquid, but by this time I had passed out of BLM territory.
I was entering the village of Whitewater when Lynne Cobb returned my call.  I had phoned earlier to tell her about the bear sighting since she lived in the vicinity and knew Carson Lake intimately from our scouting expedition.  I relayed the story as I walked, running into a cheap looking hotel.   The manager saw me approach in my hobo costume and came outside to see why he had a freak on the premises.  I told him I was looking for a room and he informed me there were none.  I called Lynne back and she revealed her presence in nearby Grand Junction.  She had come down for the day and was looking for a place to stay herself.  She would be glad to pick me up and we could stay with one of her friends.
First we headed to Pablo's Pizza and had an excellent dinner.  The pizzeria makes a variety of interesting selections.  I opted for the baked potato pie, with bacon, chives, cheese, potatoes, and sour cream.  While we dined Lynne called in a favor from her friends Beth and David Hoffman.  They had stayed with Lynne and Bill in St. George the last three years while their son Ben competed in the Iron Man Triathlon there.  After a couple of close calls he won the event this year, which is composed of a 2.4 miles swim, 112 mile bike ride, and finishes up with a tiny little marathon.  I got tired just typing those words.
The Hoffmans were glad to put us up at their lovely home.  There son has boundless energy and an incredible competitive drive and which you can see in his parents.  David has competed in Triathlons himself and actually rode his recumbent bike from Grand Junction to St. George on the way to seeing Ben race this year.  Beth is also incredibly active, riding hundreds of miles a week.  All this talk of exercise exhausted me and I am sad to say I fell asleep during our conversation.  I gave up and left for bed, falling into slumber the moment I hit the covers.

19 miles/2923 total miles

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bear With Me

July 16

Even a short day can yield a bit in excess of one's daily dose of excitement.   I delayed my start today since Lynne wanted me to meet her a friend of hers before my departure.  Barbara is her name and she was not planning on dropping by until early in the afternoon.  I waited, helping out a little with the remodeling of the cabin.  I was asked to show off my mastery of the chisel, peeling off old tile to reveal the original wood floor beneath.  The Cobbs should count themselves lucky that the wood does not now resemble Swiss cheese.  Jesus was a carpenter and sure as hell ain't no Jesus.
Barbara showed up around two and we shared lunch with Bill and Todd, who returned from running errands and working on the roof, respectively.
After repast I said goodbye to the boys and headed out to the trail.  Barbara surprised me with an invite to hole up at her place in Grand Junction for the next week.  I had been concerned with how I could afford a room until the 25th, when my father is scheduled to rendezvous with me.  Her offer was a godsend.
Lynne and Barbara accompanied me for the first mile, a stroll through the meadows of Land's End Road.  Soon we came to Flowing Park where we parted.  I've been honored to be Lynne's guest over the last couple of days.  The addition of another kind-hearted and caring person to my life is always a great joy.  I can't get enough of those numbers in my Rolodex.
I'm looking forward to meeting up with Barbara in Grand Junction.  She gave a fantastic initial impression.  One of the first things she said upon entering the Cobb cabin was, "My God I love an outhouse."  No normal person says something like that.  I hate normal people so we should get along splendidly.
Alone once more I plunged into the deep woods over the next hour.  As I went I thought about how disappointed I was not to have seen one of the larger animals like a moose, elk, bighorn sheep, or mountain goat.  Oops, forgot one.  And there he was - a huge black bear only ten feet ahead.
Here was one of those moments that separates the men from the boys.  You either show off all of your outdoorsman skills or you freeze, unsure how to act.  I prefer the latter method.  Frankly I was too startled to be properly scared.  The bear made the first move, running one hundred feet and scrambling up a tree.  Believe it or not my initial reaction, once I did have one, was to take a picture.
I could have had the shot and maybe I'll regret not having taken it for the rest of my life, but as I grabbed the camera and stepped forward for a better angle I saw what had brought the animal to this spot.  There on the ground was the fur and bones of another bear.  Had he or she been mourning the loss of a loved one?  I suddenly found the idea of a photo distasteful, even sacrilegious.  My survival instinct also kicked in and I realized I was staring at a beast which could easily tear me apart.  I made tracks.
Amazingly, only a mile later I saw another one fifty feet to my left.  Possibly the same individual (I did not ask for I.D.), this bear paralleled my course on Kannah Creek Trail for a few yards before crashing into the forest with all the grace of an offensive tackle.
Yet another mile later I momentarily thought I was in for a third meeting.  Heading toward me in the shadow of the trail was a large black shape.  Could I survive another confrontation?  Yes, because I now face a less frightening adversary, a cow.
Bessie turned out to have a group of friends.  I wasn't terribly worried but I was unsure if walking into the hard was advisable.  I tried the same method which worked on the bear, staring with my mouth agape.  The bovines were equally intimidated and fled in the other direction.  I see knowledge of my love of hamburger precedes me.
Praying to be done with wildlife encounters for the evening I set up on the path and called it a day.  Let's just say the certainty that a bear is only a couple of miles away does not make a good sleeping aid.

8 miles/2904 total miles

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Last High

July 15

If you think of my route through the Rockies as a giant staircase Grand Mesa is the final step.   There would hopefully be a warning attached mentioning that it is a doozy.  Yesterday's grind brought me to almost eleven thousand feet again.
The Grand Mesa was formed millions of years ago (or around the time of Moses for those of you who prefer the biblical calender).  Volcanic flow scoured the earth into submission like an angry bottle of Mr. Clean, leaving a land pitted with small lakes, three hundred or so by the count of someone who bothered.
I obtained an eagle's eye view of the terrain on Crag's Crest Trail along with Lynne who joined up for the first portion of the jaunt.  Atop the crest you can see fifty miles in every direction.   The Mesa is to the south and east, the Book Cliffs to the west, and the blank to the north.  Your head is on a constant swivel trying to take in the plentiful potential Ansel Adams pictures at once.
During our lunch hour Lynne told me of the controversy which dogged Grand Mesa in the early days.  The area was first used by fishermen in the late nineteenth century, but although they visited frequently to escape the heat at lower elevations and enjoy the nutrition provided by a fishy diet they did not own the land.  An English aristocrat by the name of William Radcliffe filled the vacuum, purchasing the fishing rights to a chain of twenty six of the largest lakes.  The Brit dreamed of a creating a grand resort in the wilds of Western Colorado.
The locals were none too pleased by this new development and Radcliffe's paternalistic attitude only raised their ire further.  The nobleman tried to salvage matters by offering fishing licenses for free, but there would be no compromise for the traditional trollers.  They refused to kowtow and continued to come to the lakes without permission.
The dispute came to a head when a game warden named Frank Mahaney caught a group of yahoos illegally trout snatching.  Radcliffe had implicitly instructed his wardens to deal with poachers non-violently.  Mahaney was not what one would call a good listener, so he shot and killed one of the men, a rancher named Womack, as he was climbing upon his horse to leave the property.
The people of Delta County were apoplectic when news of the slaying reached them.  Law enforcement had to use all of their manpower to prevent the lynching of Mahaney.  Stymied, the angry mob turned on Radcliffe, burning down every last building on his land.  The Englishman knew his hopes of creating a first class fish and game resort were dashed and he left before his life became forfeit as well.
Today's Grand Mesa is a mix of private property and forest land.  The original homesteaders and their descendants were allowed to keep what they owned and the Forestry Service took over management of the rest.  Thousands of visitors come up to the Mesa each weekend for the same reasons their ancestors did - cool air and good fishing- and I'm sure the beautiful surroundings don't hurt.
I saw the modern day traffic in person when I left Lynne and Crag Crest and hopped back onto Highway 65, but let's not jump too far into the future.  First we jumped ahead in the truck to scout a section of trail which the ADT turn-by-turn directions described with the clarity of muddy water viewed at night. In fact, errors were found, but we did get the gist of the thing and I feel confident I can avoid making a mesa things again.
Afterwards I walked the aforementioned 65 stretch and met up again with Lynne.  We celebrated a successful hike by obtaining a large supply of ice cream thanks to the generosity of son-in-law Todd, whose money we "borrowed" to pay for the treat.  We finished the evening back at the cabin with Bill and Todd, observing a glorious series of rainbows and sharing the gustatory pleasures of a chicken baked with a variety of fresh vegetables.

11 miles/2896 total miles

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Making a Mesa Things

July 14

I could have used an escalator today, not to mention a better map.  I am on my way back to the American Discovery Trail, where I can blame bad directions and poor routing on others.  Unfortunately there was one more chance to screw things up on Saturday's hike and I took advantage of the opportunity presented me.
The fiasco all started when I looked at a Delorme's Colorado Atlas and found a country road which seemed to provide a nice shortcut off of the busier Highway 65.  I would be safer, could cover the ground more quickly, and would come out back on 65 right where it veered off onto 123, my next turn.  What could go wrong?
I came out smelling of roses in the early running.  I was headed in the right direction and visible above was 65, which I expected to run into at the end.  My success was smashed when I turned a corner and came upon a sign signaling the road now ran onto private property and trespassing was expressly forbidden.  Any ideas I had of taking my chances with being caught were foiled by a herd of cows sitting like mafia dons (this is not to be taken as an ethnic slur directed at Italians, who are not surrounded by flies and do not chew their cud), forbidding further encroachment.
I retreated a few hundred yards and found what looked like a trail, which also seemed to travel toward the promised land of 65.  Renewed hope only lasted a few minutes, when I came upon a high barbwire fence and thick brush beyond, which dashed my dreams of bush-wacking my way out of the predicament.
I had no choice but to tuck tail and return to the starting point.  I had wasted two hours and walked six miles with no advancement.  I might as well have been exercising on a treadmill.  Did I mention virtually every step had been uphill?  On the way down there was a lengthy monologue of self castigation involving a string of curse words, some of which are so foul I didn't even know they existed in my subconscious.
Anger fueled me as I made it back to GO and began the long climb up the mesa yet again.  I managed four hard uphill miles in only an hour, powered by the steam leaking leaking from my ears.  When I finally arrived at 123 I was out of water and exhausted by over-exertion.  The road refused to give quarter, continuing to rise as I scraped to gain a foothold atop the plateau.  Not one to miss a chance to kick a guy in the crotch, the sky began to piss all over my parade.
The tough and frustrating trek was soon forgotten, however, when I reached my host for the night, the Cobb family.  Lynne is the State Coordinator for the ADT in Utah.  She and her husband have recently retired from their jobs in psychology and medicine and purchased a summer home in Grand Mesa.  Their son-in-law Todd, a builder, is currently helping with renovations on the cabin, which sits aside Eggleston Lake.  Lynne's brother Eric Seaborg and his wife Ellen were two of the main scouts responsible for determining the route of the ADT.
Lynne knew exactly what to do to heal my ailing body and psyche.  A shower, hot food, and a couple of beers later everything was again right with the world.  She also promised to accompany me on tomorrow's hike and help me get a preview of the following bits of trail.  Its funny how the effort of tackling a mountain never seems worth it until you get to the top.

12 miles/ 2885 total miles

Sculptures in the Sand

July 13

First thing in the morning Jamie removed the useless pile of fur atop my head, kindly using clippers rather than reenacting the local Ute scalping ritual.  We then returned to the City Market where I stumbled through the usual series of goodbyes and thank yous.
The geography changed quickly as I traveled northeast out of Delta.  The new environment is called the Dobe by locals, short for adobe.  I may never have a chance to walk on the surface of Mars, but I imagine the landscape there is not too different.  Everything was brown and gray, the air so dry my tongue turned to sandpaper.  Once great mountains had been worn down to nubs, they now appeared as sand dunes frozen and sculpted into wild shapes.
As I moved onto higher ground the rock structures became larger and more imposing.  An occasional bit of greenery was added, more by the mile until eventually the arid region was replaced by fruit orchards and vineyards fed by the runoff from the Grand Mesa.  There had been few signs of life on the Dobe and I imagine few organisms plant or animal could thrive in such stark conditions.
I reached Cedaredge around two, just in time for another media session, this one with The Mountain Valley News.  My interrogator, Linda, had written about the Wounded Warrior Project before and was impressed with the work the non-profit is doing.  I learned from her that the organization is in the process of setting up a facility in the nearby town of Crawford designed to help returning soldiers cope with PTSD.
I refilled my rations bag and visited the library before vanishing from Cedaredge.  For the knowledge of future visitors, there is an impressive Pioneer Village in town dating from 1907.  I am not yet willing to view anything that happened in the century I was born in as "old" so I gave it a miss.  Three miles north I found an inexpensive campground and left the world of the conscious.

18 miles/2873 total miles

Friday, July 13, 2012

Delta Devilry

July 12

Today was meet the media day in Delta, which sounds horrible if you are a professional athlete facing the same inane questions daily from a fifty year old alcoholic whose glory days consisted of a second place finish in the high school AA field hockey finals in 1978.  I look forward to interviews myself for two reasons: 1) they are crucial for the mission of promoting the Wounded Warrior Project 2) I get to sit down in one of those new-fangled chair things for a while.
I did my duty at the "Delta Independent" while also receiving word the "Mountain Valley News" was interested in a chat, and that the long-awaited article in my fraternity's magazine "the Startled Lamprey" has finally been released from cryogenic freeze.
Once done with my chore I paid a visit to the Delta museum.  The town has a long involved history with Indians, but if you want to learn about Utes you can go watch "My Cousin Vinny."  In much older and moldier news dinosaurs once roamed the mesas to the east and north.  Fossilized remains of reptiles such as the Brontosaurus have been found.  In only mildly related news, my favorite part of "Jurassic Park" was when Newman became velociraptor food.  I'm really surprised Kramer never cannibalized him on "Seinfeld," he was clearly underfed and the corpulent postman could have fed an entire Donner Party for weeks.
Across the road from the museum was the scene of Delta's most famous crime.  The McCarty family had recently carried out a successful robbery in Telluride with Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch when they decided to pay a visit to the Farmers and Merchants Bank.  
Their luck did not hold.  The gang successfully held up the teller for $700, but made the mistake of shooting the poor fellow.  The gun blast brought out the whole town, including the hardware store owner from across the street, a sharpshooter named W. Ray Simpson.  A series of rounds from his shotgun ended the career of two of the outlaws. Only Tom McCarty escaped and he never attempted another holdup again.
I spent the evening relaxing with the Heads at their home.  Jamie prepared hamburgers on the grill and then we all chilled out in their jacuzzi, except for poor Matt.  He was conducting repairs on his truck in the garage, covered in grease, while Wayne, a professional mechanic, yelled out occasional instructions from the comfort of the tub.  Wayne and I both highly recommend the recuperative power of a massaging water jet to soothe an aching body.  We also recommend delegating work - does anyone want to carry my pack?

O miles/total miles

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Blew Brothers

July 11

I've got an important dateline to meet and I can't be late.  The entire point of this detour was the hope of publicity for the Wounded Warrior Project in Delta.  I am twenty one miles away.  I have no cigarettes, I'm not driving a stolen police carIt's 1806 miles to Chicago, I only metaphorically have a full tank of gas, , it's light... and I'm wearing sunglasses.  Nevertheless I must hit it.  

I should have quoted Joliet Jake back in his home city, but better late than never and so I hoped to deliver myself in the same time span.  I had originally planned on arriving Tuesday, but my body's near lifeless status forced the delay in Paonia.  Although poltergeists occasionally change the font of the text here, they are no use as far as transportation.  I had to do this myself and thankfully time heals all wounds, if only temporarily until I wound them again.  
The sun has edged closer to the earth somehow during the last few days as I came down from the lofty heights of the Main Range of the Rockies.  It was the major opponent as I strained through mile after mile.  I battled the draining heat with water, consuming nearly twelve bottles over the course of our combat.  Each few thousand feet was a more difficult task than the previous as the powerful star slowly gained the upper hand.   The surrounding mesas became drier and dustier, the vision of giant sand dunes in my mind made me even more parched. The distance between the oases of fruit orchards and vineyards is increasing, the thought of their sweet, thirst- quenching juices an impossible dream .  
Somehow the ancient star was defeated on the afternoon and I struggled in to Delta...or perhaps victory is deferred until my first melanoma.  I met my host Jamie Head at the City Market and she dragged my beaten but not bowed form to her home north of town.  Husband Wayne returned from his job as an auto mechanic in Grand Junction an hour later, shortly followed by their son Matt, who walked with me in Marble.  
Jamie told me about the endless remodeling saga with their current home and I smiled and nodded, reminding myself to add a throw rug outside of my tent for a bit of the homey touch...perhaps a sauna and a whirlpool as well.  Wayne was exhausted from a ten hour shift combined with a commute of nearly an hour in each direction.  We sipped beer and exchanged the looks of those just happy to have found a seated position.  
The household was amazingly active.  Two of Matt's friends, Nick and Tom spend most of their waking and sleeping hours there and the Heads have four cats, two dogs, and sixteen chickens.  We all sat down for a tasty meal of pot roast, mash potatoes, pancake cornbread, and carrots from the garden.  
The chickens were spared for the night, but I sense their day of reckoning will come soon if they don't lay some eggs.  Since there is no rooster the future looks bleak.  Things didn't look to great for me either earlier this week.  Funny how a little hot food and shelter can turn things around for those of us suffering from the blues. The bright side of my situation suddenly appears.   Life on the road may be hard, but at least I don't have to flee a maniac Carrie Fisher.  

21 miles/2855 total miles 


July 10

One should proceed slowly when emerging from a fourteen hour near coma.  When I finally did return to life I went next door to the Paonia library and caught up on the blog, which for those of you without access to my personal hand-written journal was ten days behind.
Being a glacial-paced typist this process took a great deal of the remaining day, especially since the library did not open until ten.  I did notice that one of the last local coal companies had made a very recent donation of five thousand dollars to upgrade the facility.  Whether this payout is part of a sincere attempt to foster community growth or a brazen bit of bribery I leave to you the reader to decide.
Believe it or not I eventually did put feet to pavement again.  The body responded well to the rest and the reduced burden of the lightened pack.  The country I venture in is changing as I gradually depart higher altitudes. The mountains grow farther apart and flatter on top.  Mesa, or table in Spanish, is the word used to describe these high plateaus.
I am also beginning to see snakes again, or at least their carcasses.  The return to highway walking has meant a resurgence of roadkill.  Deer are still the most common victims, their fur and skeletons a frequently visible reminder that they do indeed cross here.  The only live sighting today was of another fox, a species I have seen on three occasions now in Colorado.
In the realm of humanity, some of the earliest Europeans to set foot in the west tramped across this region.  While the Declaration of Independence was in the process of being signed by our Founding Fathers a couple of other padres were trying to find a better route from Santa Fe to California.  These territories were Spanish at the time so the foundering dynasty sent a couple of their religious warriors, Father Dominguez and Father Escalante to do the job.  Unlike Coronado, an earlier Spanish wanderer who searched for a make believe city of gold, the padres' goal was tangible, but their failure was just as complete.
I certainly can't judge these men too harshly.  What they attempted is amazing, entering this vast and difficult terrain with only the help of a couple of Indian guides.  I have maps, a compass, a phone, and civilization never too far away and still I am daunted by desert ahead.  
Indeed, I may not find California either, but today's shorter jaunt was a success.  I reached the Mountain Valley Meadows RV Park in Hotchkiss, where I made myself a home for the night.  I would have liked to get farther towards Delta, but there weren't a lot of other choices for places to camp further down the road. Sometimes I'm a "Frogger," patiently waiting for the next safe log to appear. 

7 miles/2834 total miles

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I Am Turd

July 9

I felt like reheated dog crap this morning.  I did laundry and had breakfast.  I have no money left but got a cheap hotel anyway and slept and slept and slept....The end. 

0 miles/2827 total miles

Little Orphan Annie is a Dirty Liar

July 8

I kind of wish I'd had an AK.  I'd say today was not a good day.
The initial omens were not bad.  Brenda invited me over for a delicious breakfast of dehydrated pancakes.  She has recently become an advocate of water removal for space enhancement purposes and has experimented with spaghetti, apples, and watermelons of late.
We went our separate ways at nine; they returned to Denver and I to my longer journey.  Progress was hard won.  I have a wisdom tooth coming in and the pain kept me up most of the night.  The clothes I left out to dry didn't, meaning I was carrying significantly more weight than usual.
I followed the North Fork of the Gunnison River through coal country.  The ugly seams ruined the view and stained the river a dull gray.  The road wound through mountains that appeared like fingers on hands not quite interlaced, the highway and river barely able to slip the gaps.
The weather was brutal.  The heat of the sun snuck up on me.  Without humidity I did not sweat, only a severe zapping of my energy levels signaled trouble.  A couple of cars offering rides gave water when asked and I staved off trouble with rest and hydration.
Another afternoon tempest darkened my door about five, the thrashing as it came sixteen miles into a hard day did nothing to soothe my disposition.  The pack felt like an anvil, my back and shoulders know the pain inflicted by the Spanish Inquisition.
Finally I hit Paonia, home to vineyards and hippies.  The stoned hippies were no help so I resorted to alcohol (but not of the grape variety) enjoying several pints of a lovely local rye porter.  One hippie did offer me a bed before conveniently disappearing into his yellow submarine.  Abandoned, I made for the park and another night of fitful sleep.

20 miles/2827 total miles


July 7

The drought here has ended.  I at least pray the rain ends the reign of fire in Colorado's forests.
That's about all I want to say about today, but I have a job to do - diligently giving more information than you want - and I shall perform this duty.
McClure Pass was first on the agenda.  I always like getting the uphill portion of the program out of the way early when the energy level is still high.  The elevation at the top was only 8900 feet, which shows you how far I dropped yesterday.
After McClure I fell even further, passing a series of bicyclists furiously pumping their legs in an effort to reach the lofty heights i was descending.  They were mainly Europeans, and many commented on the heat, their pasty complexions wilting in what would be described as a cool April day back home.  Further on I was privy to a wildlife blooper reel.  I caught sight of a doe sipping from a roadside creek.  The animal noticed me watching and attempted to flee over a tall fence.  Clang!  Team Doh has failed the equestrian jumping event.
The joke was on me by the afternoon.  The previously blue sky exited the scene abruptly and was replaced by malicious-looking clouds.  A drenching soon followed.  I was certain the initial volume of precipitation could not continue.  Thirty minutes later I conceded the error.  An hour more and I was willing to give up and hitchhike.  To where?  Anywhere dry.  Unfortunately, Hollywood has filled our brains with images of dangerous psychopaths picked up in a raging thunderstorm.  Rescue was not forthcoming.
The weather conditions were perfect for landslides and the landscape was equally as suited.  I was jolted out of my self-pity on a couple occasions by the sound of rocks falling from the cliffs above onto the road.  One was as big as a softball.  
I sogged onward to Paonia State Park, where I found a shelter to escape the incessant downpour.  Ironically there were no water pumps, but my neighbors were a kind family of five with a case they were willing to share. Matt and Brenda also gave me a couple hours of human companionship, which my spirit was in dire need of at the moment.
I set up the Half Dome underneath the picnic shelter and spread out my soaked clothes to dry.  Not a pleasant day.  I need Little Orphan Annie to sing me a song.

19 miles/2807 total miles

River Gone Wild

July 6

This morning started as another ho hum traipse, another mountain pass, another glorious valley, another former mining town, etc.  On Schofield Park Road things took a turn for the wow.
A sign warned that only experienced 4x4 drivers need apply.  The ground was difficult without a doubt, the cobbling accomplished via the whims of gravity, the route swerved left, right, up, and down, steep and narrow.
The scenery was more than worth the effort.  I have run out of superlatives after weeks in the Rockies.  I feel like George Bradley, a member of John Wesley Powell's expedition, the first to run the length of the Green and Colorado Rivers into the Grand Canyon.  Bradley describes each rapid as the greatest, the fastest, the most terrifying yet.  Perhaps he was right, for the ante seems to be upped every day I spend here.
My meager pen can't do the Crystal River Canyon justice, however, so I've brought in a guest to perform the job properly.  Smoky Canewood is a former writer for such TV programs as "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" and "Girls Gone Wild."
"The river was smokin' hot - clear as crystal suggests, sounds like a lap dancer.  You could see all the way to the bottom, I mean everything.  Even when she was bashful, hid behind some trees, you could hear the most erotic sounds as she ran rapidly downhill.
"The waterfalls were even more seductive.  I used my camera so much you'd think they were Claudia Schiffer's bum.  They were everywhere...I hardly knew which to choose from or look at...I felt like a judge at the Miss America pageant.
"The rock hard gorges twisted and turned...such luscious curves - and the way they went down so deep..."
Smoky needs to have some personal time now so I'll just wrap up by mentioning that sections of the Crystal were constantly out of the sunlight at the bottom of a gorge.  Therefore large packs of snow and ice have not melted.  The river barges a course right inside these glaciers, producing a not unpleasing visual effect.  I wouldn't personally compare it to tow young girls making out at Mardi Gras, however.
Near the village of Marble the sultriness died down a bit and I met the Head family.  With a father and two sons in the military and another about to join, they were very high on the Wounded Warrior Walk.  They invited me to have lunch with them aside Lizard Lake.  While we ate mother Jamie suggested I take a detour to their home of Delta, Colorado where she was sure we could get the charity some good press.
Delta is not too far off my planned route and I look to be well early for my appointment with family in Grand Junction so I said yes..
After the meal son Matt, aged seventeen, walked with me for a few miles.  He is a rising senior in high school and plans to commit to the Marines upon graduation.
We reached Marble and I parted ways with the Heads, promising to see them again in Delta on Tuesday.  Thirty seconds later I had passes Marble in all its splendor.  The village of 89 is famous for quarrying you can probably guess what.  Their stone has been used in the building of the state capitol, Lincoln Memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Four miles past I arrived at Bogan Flats campground.  With no other likely stopping places in the near future I ended the day in her warm embrace.

15 miles/2789 total miles

Chutes and Ladders

July 5

I returned to my game of chutes and ladders today, with the latter being the dominate theme.  The ADT leaves Crested Butte on the Lower Loop Trail, which was not hard to find within the four square block metropolis.  The land for the trail has been reclaimed from an old coal concern by the Crested Butte Land Trust (who have also taken over management of the Red Lady).  The mine's refuse marred the valley and the heaps of old waste represented a fire danger.  The CLBT went to work in 2005 cleaning up and restoring the site to something close to its original look.  Thanks to the efforts of people like my host John Hess I observed an area now filled with hikers and bikers using the new paths.  Groups of children splashed happily in the clean creek.
The rest of the hike was spent on the aforementioned ladders, climbing State River Road up to Paradise Pass.  The incline was tiring, but there was no difficulty finding the relatively wide road and I didn't have to dance through the usual pile of boulders.  A slight rain did dampen the mood, but a visit from my first ptarmigan and the chance to soak in the panorama of another Eden-like valley parlayed the light precipitation into a minor annoyance.  \
I stopped for the day atop the Pass, between Mt Baldy (named after my friend Colin Stewart) and Mt. Cinnamon, which looks like a huge pile of the spice.  I'm about halfway to Marble, my next semi-populated destination.   I've got one more height to scale at Schofield Pass (this turned out to actually be lower than where I was) but I'm looking forward to mostly chutes tomorrow.  No wonder I always lost at that game.

14 miles/2774 total miles

No Dynamite but Good Times

July 4

During the era of the miners Crested Butte celebrated the 4th with more than fireworks alone.  Dynamite was set off at the beginning and end of the festivities.  Sometimes I understand why folks yearn for the good ole days of unregulated explosives.
Nowadays the town's celebration of Independence Day is less destructive, but no less popular.  Fireworks are banned, but the calender is full of events.  The fire station puts on a pancake breakfast and the more foolish types participate in a 1/3 marathon.  I was awake to take part in either.
My involvement started with the parade, which is considered one of the best in small town America according to what some random claimed was once written in a National Geographic Traveler article from 1983.  Always trust your source.
I was invited to march, carrying a sharpened stake connected to a "Register to Vote" sign.  I was tempted to write "Kill Vampires" on the other side.  Oh my kingdom for a pen!
I marched near the front and so was able to witness the rest of the extravaganza when my work was done.  Freaks are drawn to a parade like moths to a flame and there numbers were legion today.  Unicyclists, a red fairy, men on stilts, and a float composed of people dressed in uniforms made of corn husks were some of the more interesting members of the mad menagerie.
Tired of pomp and pageantry I retired to my temporary home to write for a bit.  My dreams of a relaxing afternoon were shattered by John's roommate Brent, who invited me out to his family's barbecue.
Brent had marched in the parade himself with the High Country Citizen's Alliance. The organization has recently succeeded in preventing molybdenum mining on the Red Lady (Mt. Emmons) the mountain facing the west side of town.  They worried the work would pollute Crested Butte's water source and that the noise of trucks passing through would hurt tourism. 
The cookout was held by Brent's uncle and aunt, who are heavily involved in politics.  They had a special guest today (not me), one of Colorado's United States Senators, Michael Bennet.  He gave an articulate and passionate talk about the problems currently facing Congress, many of which he claims are due to the intransigence of certain less sane members of that august body.  He mentioned someone from my home state by name.  Shout out for South Carolina!  Bennet then fielded questions and concerns from the audience in a civil manner unbecoming of an American politician.
Brent took the rest of the holiday to show me around a variety of establishments in Crested Butte.  I believe the lower sorts refer to such pilgrimages as "pub crawls."  I did not participate in such infantile forms of locomotion, although there may have been a few unconfirmed stumbles after sundown. 

0 miles/whatever i had before total miles

Into Crusted Butt

July 3

A few hours of limping took me to Crested Butte, the first real town since Leadville.  There I met John Hess, the regional coordinator for the ADT in central west Colorado.  He and friend Maureen took me to lunch at the Paradise Cafe, gave me an excellent map of the next week's route (40 Latitude), and offered a spot on his floor for the holiday.
Yes tomorrow will be a zero day.  The mere thought of spending the 4th alone in the woods made me massively depressed.  I had vowed to stay here even if it meant sleeping in a dumpster.
Eau de garbage might have improved my smell, but apparently it also attracts bears, who have been doing some dumpster diving of their own in the Butte.  There is a five hundred dollar fine for leaving a receptacle unlocked.
Fortunately I did not have to share my home with Smoky's smorgasboard so I was free to take a shower and run some errands.   Once done with the necessities I took to the streets in pursuit of information.
Crested Butte was a hard scrabble mining town in the early days.  Immigrants from Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy came here with the intent to strike it rich and return home. Most earned a meager existence in the coal mines and ended up staying.  The 1920s were especially difficult.  A resurgence of the KKK brought anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic prejudices into the open.  The governor of Colorado was even a member of the hateful organization.
Crested Butte survived this threat, but the modern age has swept away the old.  The facelift happened with the influx of outdoor activities.  Fly fishing, hiking, biking, skiing, rafting, and rock-climbing are all readily available to the visitor and these interlopers have come in increasing droves over the years.
Eventually the hordes overran the local population.  I traveled the streets and met a number of tourists and recent transplants, but virtually no one was homegrown.  For once my transiency is the norm.

7 miles/2760 total miles

Construction Junction, What's Your Malfunction

July 2

Steve prepared a breakfast burrito for me the size of a football, then he and O.K. dropped off a fat and happy Alastair at the Nugget.  I conquered the wide bodied Taylor Reservoir an hour later. A release valve fires water into the renewed Taylor River in a manner reminiscent of Bull Connor in Birmingham, albeit in a less racist fashion. 
The river winds down a narrow canyon, the white water and high walls above bringing to mind the Green River, which I regularly tube when home in Carolina. 
Fly fisherman stood knee deep in the water.  Whether in pairs or alone they all shared one thing in common - failure.  During my observation not a fish was caught, confirming the sport's reputation as both difficult and insanely boring.  Maybe if they had been drinking beer I could have understood the allure.
Ten miles down the road I ran into an impassable obstruction, construction junction.  Serious repairs were being done on seven miles of Taylor River Road and the foreman would not allow me to travel through on foot. I was forced to take a ride and skip a section for the first time since the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  I hitched with Randy and his son, who claimed to be "killing it" on the fly fishing front.  I gathered they had caught a trout earlier in the week.
My sudden transport to lands beyond threw a wrench in the plan for day's end.  At three I had already reached the campground I had previously chosen for the finish line.  I wasn't ready to stop so soon. 
Carrying on to Jack's Cabin Cutoff, I considered bivouacking along the road somewhere.  Not so fast - there were no woods in which to seclude myself and signs warned of cattle using the grass for pasture.  The land was state park owned so camping was permissible, but would I end up on the wrong side of a bull's horn if I chanced an overnight here?
On I went, finding 135 and doing five more miles to Cement Creek Road.  There was a campground an hour's walk down CCR which seemed the best option. 
I stopped at Ruben's Mexican on the way.  The gringo waitress clearly could not understand my perfect Spanglish and I ended up with a vegetarian chimichanga.  At least it was deep-fried so the Vegas odds on my heart attack remain unchanged. 
I left Ruben's in the glow of sunset and headed towards a home for the evening.  On the way I met Judy, who as part of her job teaches Wounded Warriors to ski again.  She showed me a good safe away from the petty monetary needs of the state facility. 
I struggled to sleep.  The big toe on my right foot is throbbing, the week long problem in worsening.

19 miles/2753 total miles

Into the Valley We Go in Search of Celebrity Look Alikes

July 1

I was awoken this morning when Boston and Cubby passed by my sleeping spot a few feet off the Timberline Trail.  We exchanged pleasantries and Boston suggested I would catch up with them later.  Not too likely as I had planned a detour before going to bed.
Mom's birthday is the first and I had no cel service.  The two ADT hikers were the only people I had seen in twenty four hours outside of a couple of motorcycles zooming past. I had poor maps for the ADT route as well so the decision to come down from on high was simple.
I went south toward Taylor River Road, which I reached in an hour, then continued to the reservoir also named after the Taylor fellow.  On the eastern shore I spotted what appeared to be a trading post.  Next door was an even greater revelation, the Nugget Cafe.
Inside I encountered one of those perfect storms long distance hikers dream for weeks about.  Everyone asked about what I was doing and offered help.  Clint and Jan let me use their phone to call Mom.  The waiter had the cook make me the biggest Reuben he could and threw in half an apple pie for good measure.  Table neighbor and PCT hiker Mark bought lunch.  Best of all, Steve and his family invited me out to join their camping trip for the day.
Patriarch O.K., a Baptist minister, led the group of generous Texans.  Son Steve resembled Timothy McVeigh, which was unfortunate since at the time of the famous bombing he was living in Yukon, Oklahoma (they haven't kicked him out yet).  Brother Peter, a psychology professor, favored "The Daily Show's" John Oliver minus the Brit accent. He and his wife Lynette, who teaches English as a second language, live in Plainview, Texas.
Several teenage children and a couple dogs made up the sum total of those assembled.  They had been coming to the Taylor River area to vacation for many years.  Steve reminisced of the halcyon days when the Aspen bomber lived in the woods beyond.  This particular loon delivered explosives to the door of two banks in the ski resort before killing because the voices in his head suggested he looked like Patrick Duffy in 2009. 
That night we sat around a make believe fire and told stories.  Peter and Lynette of their visits to Kenya, Steve of his bike trip from Texas to Vancouver, Peter's son Ryan of the large hole he had drilled into his ass when he slid off a patch of snow into an unmoving pile of rocks.  I countered with the same boring crap you've heard about here.  I was just glad to be back in civilization, surrounded with new friends.

10 miles/2734 total miles

A Continent Divided Can Stand

June 30

The easy trot down Forest Trail 390 gave little indication of the difficulty ahead.  Perhaps I should have been clued in by the giant mountains on all sides.
I turned left at Winfield, another old mining town.  The former population of 1500 doesn't seem like much unless compared with the current total of zero.  Only a tiny museum and a couple of preserved buildings remain.
The Lake Ann trailhead signaled my entrance ont the up ramp.  The path wound beside a creek running through a rocky gorge.  A pair of waterfalls kicked up the visual stimulus meter up to eleven.  More struggle toward the heavens brought me to the promised reward of Lake Ann, more of a glacial pond with the light snows this year, but nonetheless a worthy sight for tired muscles and bones lying as it did underneath two snow covered peaks.  A tragedy really - if only they could see...
As much as I wanted to stop and revel in the view there was yet higher to go.  Another meeting of black clouds looked to be scheduled for sometime in the near future.  Impelled on, I past the treeline and began navigating a trail that looked more like a rock garden.  Bits covered in snow and ice made finding the way difficult.  In fact the trail completely disappeared on me.  I guessed the probable direction it was headed and returned, only to lose the stone road once more. 
By now I was only one hundred yards from the top of the pass and determined to get there one way or another.  I picked the "easiest" looking slope and scrabbled up a few feet at a time.  I was rock-climbing now, not hiking and I don't recommend trying the sport while wearing a forty pound pack.  Fifteen feet from the top I made a last charge, making the apex, only to collapse with lungs and heart heaving so hard I thought my ribcage would burst.
I was sitting atop the Continental Divide, although I didn't realize it then.  I didn't even have the energy to take a picture.  The black clouds were still meeting and even if they hadn't carried through on their threats yet I wasn't waiting around for them to reach a quorum.
Down the narrow path I went, switchback after switchback leading me slowly back into the shade.  At the next intersection I turned away from the CDT and CT for good.  The Timberline Trail would fail to impress.  Rocky, flooded, and narrow are a few of the kinder words I could use to describe this hiking trail, which is so beloved by hikers that on a Saturday I ran into a grand total of zero fellow pedestrians.
There weren't many useful spots to set down either.  The sun was low on the horizon by the time I found a semi-flat square of pine straw not covered in rock slide.  A continent divided might be able to stand, but I can't any longer.

15 miles/2724 total miles

Thursday, July 5, 2012


June 29

Following two days shortened by inclement weather I wanted to make up some ground.  I pray that my suffering last night was evened out by the rain's positive effect on the wildfires throughout the state.
I finished my near circumnavigation of Twin Lakes in the early morning.  I then took the Colorado Trail south, hiking on the ridges of a series of tall peaks.  The scenery was dull compared to the usual stunning vistas.  The trees hemmed me in, reducing wht view there was.
No sooner had I resigned myself to a dull day than I came over a hump to see the most picturesque valley sprawling beneath.  Clear Creek split the floor running east into the reservoir of the same name.  Fourteen thousand foot peaks Oxford and Belford stared at me across the chasm. 
At bottom I found equally wonderful people to match this paradise.  James at the Clear Creek Ranch gave me water and filled my food bag, which was dangerously low considering I won't be able to resupply until Crested Butte.  Former AT hiker Dan stopped to offer food, water, and a smoky treat packed into some sort of bowl.  Tom paused to ask if I wanted a ride and left considering his own journey on the ADT.  A group of forestry service workers halted and thanked me for using the trails they maintain.  Trust me, with the awful experiences I had on the uncared for Buckeye Trail I couldn't thank them enough for their work.
Five miles in the valley brought me to Vicksburg, an abandoned mining town from the 19th century.  My feet and back were ready to mutiny so I chose a spot just past the ex-town for respite. 

15 miles/ 2709 total miles


June 28

It turned out I was farther from the CT trailhead than I thought.  A good hour of work was required to reach the path. 
I have often questioned the sanity of the ADT's designers whenever any excessive non-westerly movement takes place.  In this instance the trail is going south and I understand perfectly why.  Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert stand like 14,000 foot Berlin Walls blocking the way.  At least I'm stuck in the Rockies and not the Communist bloc. 
Further on the mountainous obstacles became even more irksome.  At Twin Lakes the western shore is impassable due to a group of sheer peaks.  There is no choice but to head clockwise around the water, first east, then south, and finally you can go west a couple of miles past the southern shore. 
Yet another traffic cone prevented me from even getting that far today.  The sky provided the barrier in the form of a vicious storm.  Pouring rain and hail forced me into gear protection mode.  I donned my raincoat, covered the bag with the poncho, and curled into a fetal position, trying to stay as dry as possible in the worst soaking I have experienced in Colorado thus far.
A break in the squall allowed me to move a few hundred yards to Dexter Point camping area.  Once there I set up the tent, changed into dry clothes, and sat out the next barrage in comfort. 
Shortly after five the tempest abated.  Since I'm still well ahead of pace I decided to use the rest of the day to dry my wet clothes.  The sun returned from exile and seemed to be obliging.
The mountains to the west seemed to be manufacturing a black cloud every couple of hours, then sending it towards Twin Lakes.  The next waves brought little more than a sprinkle, so I thought little of the next malevolent cloud, which I saw forming before turning in for the night. 
I was awakened by Armageddon.  The rain was falling in torrents, but it was not the main concern.  A mighty wind had come down from the heights like a mailed fist and was shaking my shelter like a washing machine on spin cycle.  The fly had been dislodged and I clung to the portion still attached.  The power of the storm made me feel like a bull rider, desperate to hold on, which I managed to do for what felt like hours.  I knew I couldn't go outside to do repairs - only the weight of my body was keeping the tent from flying away to Oz.  Finally the banshees wail ceased and I hopped out to observe the damage.   All four stakes had been uprooted.  I put humpty dumpty back together again and crawled into my sleeping bag.  Exhausted I entered a deep sleep. 

12 miles/2694 total miles

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


June 27

Leadville's location is arguably the best in all of Colorado for mountain lovers. The Mosquito, Sawatch, and Collegiate Peaks ranges encircle the area, with Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert looming most prominently to the west.  The Colorado Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and American Discovery Trail all visit the town.
The Leadville Hostel is a beacon and a haven for all these long distance travelers in need of a rest.  During my stay I met people on all three trails, every one of them with interesting stories to tell.  There was Ryan, who was leaving the CT to return to Panama where he operates a hostel of his own.  He'd received word his wife was pregnant with their first child and was soliciting name suggestions.  Then there was Boston and Cubby, working on finishing their fourth major trail.  Another guest was spending his vacation as a volunteer, keeping these pedestrian roads maintained.
Owner Wild Bill keeps the place open for summer and winter seasons and trots the world during the slow periods.  The hostel caters to skiers, hikers, and a variety of outdoorsmen looking for a good bargain.  Believe me, you will have a far superior atmosphere here than at a cheap, dusty motel.  Bill has hosted a litany of extreme athletes, including competitors in the Leadville 100 an ultramarathon where every one of a century of miles is run above nine thousand feet. 
For those who think this lunacy is too tame there is Nolan's 14ers.  Contestants are required to run the same 100 mile distance, but in this case the course is a little higher.  Runners must conquer fourteen peaks of 14,000 feet or more in less than sixty hours.  Four athletes are known to have finished the task since Nolan's began in 2001. 
I was ambivalent about leaving such a fascinating place but my budget is too low for this fine living and I had to find cheaper pastures.  The hostel is an excellent deal at twenty bucks a night, but I need a price closer to zero.
Despite a strong urge to remain I moved out before noon and headed deeper into the shadows of Mt. Massive and Elbert.  Four hours took me across the headwaters of the Arkansas River and near the trailhead for segment eleven of the CT, but darkening skies and the sound of thunder brought up short.  I found a good spot and erected my protective shelter to defend against the upcoming onslaught.  I pushed down stakes early and closed down shop. 

10 miles/2682 total miles